Silencing Black Women in the White CourtroomBreaking News
tags: racism, African American history, Black History, Courts, womens history
Dr. Denise Lynn is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Southern Indiana. Her research centers on women in the American Communist Party during the Popular Front. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLynn13.
On August 3, 1952, Ruby McCollum walked into Dr. C. LeRoy Adams’s medical practice in Live Oak, Florida and shot and killed the doctor. Prosecutors at Ruby’s trial contended that she killed him over a disputed medical bill and because she was his spurned ex-lover. Ruby’s defense attorney insisted it was self-defense. Ruby was promptly tried for the murder by a judge who served as a pallbearer at the doctor’s funeral and a jury with the doctor’s former patients on it. She was found guilty and sentenced to death in the electric chair. The Live Oak community was ready to move on from the case and let Ruby pay for her crime. However, Zora Neale Hurston, novelist and reporter hired by the Pittsburgh Courier to cover the story, was disturbed by Ruby’s case. In particular, she was concerned that the judge and state attorney made sure that Ruby’s testimony was brief, and that the judge issued an order preventing her from speaking to reporters. Ruby McCollum was literally silenced during and after her trial.
There is no question that McCollum killed Adams. It was the middle of the day and there were witnesses, but the Live Oak community was not interested in understanding why. As historian Kali Nicole Gross has argued, Black women have never had the protection of the American judicial system and thus have never been the “beneficiaries of the full rights of citizenship.” The court was not interested in McCollum’s side of the story, nor was it concerned with fairness. Clearly, a judge who knew the victim enough to serve as a pallbearer in his funeral should have recused himself from the case. Ruby McCollum’s case is part of the long history of the carceral state’s heavy-handed and unjust policing of Black women.
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